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The tsunami and the Kingdom

Luke 21:25 and the recent tsunamis in Indonesia

These are very interesting times that we live in and I just love it when biblical verses and the news headlines collide… I kept remembering Luke 21:25 (the "distress of nations full of anguish because of the roaring of the sea and the waves") as I was watching the evening news on French TV: "A dozen nations ravaged by the tsunamis of East Asia". In these last days of 2004, the magnitude of this natural catastrophe in Indonesia is amazing and it is taking me a little while to actually understand it. But the process is greatly helped by faith and prayers and that is something that I will never find on TV or in the written press, at least not in the standard ones. In the popular culture, there is no mention of God, no reference to the transcendent, no acknowledgement of the supernatural dimension of our lives… But it is easier to find it on the internet and that is such a blessing. The community of believers is being strengthened and gathered by these new media: email messages and internet sites.

Seeing the hand of God in the global community of believers

The verse from Luke is all about the second coming of Christ. When something so amazing happens as this Christmas earthquake and the following tsunamis, I can't help wondering how close we are to the end of times… But I also wonder what am I supposed to do in front of these events? What is it that God wants me to do with it? I believe we are all interconnected in more ways than just the visible ones and I care about reacting as a true follower of Christ. And although I am watching the news from a small village in the French Alps where I am visiting family, I will soon go back to Northern California where I live. It does not really matter where we are, we all heard about the tsunamis. Isn't this interesting? This recent awareness of a "global" community is quite a new development, historically speaking. It was brought about by new technologies but it is being fleshed out by human compassion and human relationships. A few hours in the early morning of December 26 2004 were a wake up call for all of us.

To me, this is a natural development of Christianity. Most non-Christians would cringe at this but I can see the link from Mat 28: "Go and make disciples of all nations" to today's awareness of the global family. We are not quite there yet but the process is unfolding itself slowly but surely and it will unfold until the Second Coming. So my first reaction to the tsunamis was to watch in astonishment God's plan being publicly played out on a planetary scale.

My second reaction had to do with the Kingdom. Someone asked in front of me, recently, what is the Kingdom of God, what does it mean exactly? And it got me thinking that, although I feel I can "grasp" what it means within my heart and my soul, and although I feel a certain excitement just to hear it mentioned, I was not sure how to articulate it. So I wondered about it for a while and the paradoxical nature of it is the first thing that struck me. The Kingdom is in the "here and now" on one hand (it is in "our mist") but it is also in the "there and then", in the future, in that mysterious dimension of eternity, which we cannot know now but which is the goal of our faith-driven life. There is a certain tension between these two dimensions and Jesus summarized them beautifully by the two commandments: love God and love your neighbor!

The Kingdom to come vs the one here

The consequences of the catastrophe in Indonesia were unfolding themselves every night on the news and the death toll was mounting in such horrible proportions that I felt jarred and bewildered. It is only when I try to view it from God's perspective that I can regain my balance. It is only when I think of the Kingdom that I can come up with a response to these wrenching events.

I told myself that the first thing needed was to pray and pray for the dead. Thanks to intercessory prayers, I can pray for the thousands of dead thousands of miles away from me. I can offer my prayers to accompany them in their journey to God and beg for his mercy. I can also offer prayers for the survivors, for the wounded, the sick, the scared and confused, all the ones suffering the loss of a loved one; May this huge natural catastrophe be an opportunity to discover you, Lord, for the ones who do not know you yet and to come closer to you for the ones who do.

Besides prayers, I need to offer money and checks: I need to participate in this huge relief effort that is underway; I need to lend a hand in whatever way I can. Building the Kingdom of God right here on earth is best done when we help our neighbor and I was just given the opportunity to "see" my neighbor in so many faces in Thailand, Sumatra, Java or India… I really think that this is a test for us, in the Western world - us who are so much richer than most people in these parts of the world - that our response is going to be crucial.

But at the very same time, I better remember to help my local neighbor too. Because the news are flooding us with very graphic images, there is a temptation to ignore the suffering right here in our own backyard… I take the images on TV as a good reminder to clearly state my love to my loved ones and to show care and support to anyone else around me. Charity begins at home.

The last step in what this catastrophe requires of me (when I look at it through the lenses of the Kingdom) is that I need to place my trust in God and to renew this daily. It is a crucial step for us, believers in the Kingdom to come. To have faith enough to trust God when the physical reality seems to deny the point of that faith is always a test. To have trust in God's plan enough to thank him for light in the middle of the night is what separate us from non believers. It is also the very best witnessing. We can start being a witness right here where it is most needed, in the West. We need to do it to counter the material and utilitarian worldview of our Western culture feverishly bent on profit or pleasure. We need to bring the Catholic worldview of revelation and faith to the public square. In any grand moment where things are shifting, there is a window of opportunity that should be grabbed. I completely agree with the current movement of international solidarity with East Asia (and I see God's finger in it) but I also believe that I am being asked something else, on another level and that is to witness about my faith, right here and right now, loud and clear.

May Your Kingdom come!

Copyright ©2005 Michele Szekely

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